Some of the beehives next to one of the areas burned by the fire in the Sierra Bermeja. / SUR

Bees to the rescue in Sierra Bermeja

Helping nature's recovery. After the fire in the mountains behind the Costa del Sol, a honey firm's insects are contributing by pollinating the trees and plants

JOSÉ MARÍA MARTÍN

The Sierra Bermeja is currently facing what is probably its greatest challenge in history, trying to recover from the forest fire in September which burned over 10,000 hectares and forced people to evacuate their homes in the nearby area and in the Genal valley.

That was an absolute monster of a fire, one which not only took the life of an Infoca firefighter but was also classified as sixth generation due to its virulence and its characteristics.

The process of regenerating the species which were affected by the flames is going to be a slow one, but nature itself will be the main driving force. The native flora and fauna of this beautiful green lung on the western side of Malaga province will also play a part, especially the bees, thanks to pollination.

This is something they are all well aware of at Miel Sierra Bermeja, a local company that produces and sells honey and its derivatives thanks to its facilities on different parts of the Estepona mountain. They have recently been granted a concession by the council which has enabled them to install an extra 80 beehives.

"Altogether, and depending on the time of year, we have around 1,500 hives, with an average of 60,000 bees in each," says Francisco Javier Quirós, who owns the business with his brothers, after inheriting it from their father, José, who started producing honey by traditional methods back in the 1970s.

This new generation has made the business more professional in keeping with the times. Despite modernising the production processes, when it comes to the way in which they sell their products, which range from the delicious thousand flower honey to the coveted royal jelly, they still follow traditional guidelines. For example, they distribute to small local businesses who then deliver this precious liquid gold to the homes of their neighbours. They distribute in the nearest parts of eastern Malaga, the Campo de Gibraltar and also the Serranía de Ronda. Some of the honey is also exported to other countries in Europe and a small amount goes to Morocco.

"It is mainly distributed locally. We don't sell it directly. One of the reasons for that is because we believe in supporting small, traditional businesses," says Francisco Javier.

This means that by focusing on tradition, local products and nature, the Quirós López family has successfully established a symbiosis which is as beneficial for their businesses as the relationship is between their bees and the flora of the area.

This relationship has become even more important since the fire which caused such devastation in September.

"The bees benefit from the variety of natural species that grow here and, at the same time, they collaborate by expanding the plants through pollination. After the fire, the new plants will be able to count on the help from the bees to enable them to grow better," says Francisco Javier.

Mutual relationship

Pollination is the exchange of pollen between some plants and others so they can be fertilised to produce fruits and seeds. The reproduction takes place thanks to the pollen being transported by the bees who feed on the nectar. There is no doubt that the mission of the pollinating army is vital for the preservation of the ecosystems, the diversity of plants and for our own food supply. However, a recent report from the NGO Greenpeace shows that 37 per cent of the bee populations in Europe are declining.

This is why it is so important that companies like Miel Sierra Bermeja exist, because they promote one of the most sustainable human activities, that of beekeeping.

Thanks to the work they have been carrying out for decades, they have managed to perfect a wide variety of products which are all of high quality, thanks to the species of flowers that are used in the process of producing the honey and other products deriving from it.

"Honey ends up being a reflection of nature itself. The more varieties that are used in the production of it, the more properties that product will have. The one we produce here benefits from our location, being close to the coast and the Straits of Gibraltar. We move the beehives around during the year and that gives us extra contributions from species such as madroño, pinsapo and heather, depending on the season of the year," explains Francisco Javier.